Shane Lowry opened with a frustrating two under 70 and trails leader Sergio Garcia by six shots after the opening round of the $7m BMW Masters at Lake Malaren in Shanghai.
On a day when Danny Willett, just 74,213 points behind Race to Dubai leader Rory McIlroy struggled to a 72, Lowry played well enough from tee to green to get closer to the lead but failed with the putter.
The world No 18 finished the day in the middle of the pack for putting, missing several good birdie chances as well as two short putts for par at his third (the 12th) and fourth (the 13th), where he drove into the lake but then hit a 204-yard fourth to no more than six feet.
Third in the Race to Dubai and in with a chance of going top heading into the final event next week if he can win or finish second this week, Lowry had birdied his opening hole. And while he was rolling his eyes after his errors at the 12th and 13th, he came back well with birdies at the 16th, 17th and third to get to two under.
He might have made up a shot or two more but his six iron to six feet at his final hole followed by a missed birdie putt summed up a 31 putt day that left Lowry tied for 24th
Paul McGinley, the only other Irish player in the field due to McIlroy's absence, is a shot further back in tied 38th after a bogey-par-bogey finish added up to a disappointing 71 considering he was three under and cruising.
In contrast, Garcia was clinical from tee to green, hitting every fairway and missing just one green as he made nine birdies and dropped just one shot in his first competitive round at Lake Malaren.
Still 11th in the world but a lowly 30th in the Race to Dubai, Garcia has a one shot advantage over Frenchman Victor Dubuission, who continued the form which brought him victory in his last appearance in the Turkish Airlines Open with a flawless 65, and Korean Byeong Hun An, who was also bogey-free as he chases a second BMW title of 2015 following his PGA Championship victory in May.
Englishman Ross Fisher, who lost in a play-off 12 months ago, is a further shot back on six under par, as his affinity with Shanghai continues following his share of third place in last week’s WGC-HSBC Champions in the same city.
He was joined in fourth position by Denmark’s Lucas Bjerregaard, who finished runner-up to Justin Rose in last month’s UBS Hong Kong Open, while Rose’s bid for back-to-back titles on Chinese soil began with a five under par round of 67, leaving the Englishman three shots off the pace in a share of sixth position with compatriot Paul Casey and Thailand’s Thongchai Jaidee.
Playing alongside Lowry and Louis Oosthuizen, Willett could not replicate the form he showed in that closing 62 in the WGC-HSBC Champions last week, where he was second to Russell Knox.
“Just couldn’t quite get things going,” Willett said. "Drove it well. Didn't quite get the numbers right or hit it close enough to make anything. Just a very stale day.”
“It was a strange one last week. The game's not felt great, and one of them where on Sunday last week, we kind of hit it into areas and ended up hitting a couple stiff, a couple close, took advantage of the par 5s and actually made a really good score out of what in all honesty feelings-wise wasn't great.
"We are working hard and we are working hard to try to get the feelings somewhat back. It's obviously a long four-week stretch. Trying to stay fresh and obviously give ourselves as good a chance in The Race to Dubai.
“I t’s one of them, regardless of what happens this week, whoever wins this week, if we win next week, we're going to win The Race to Dubai. It's one of them where people are saying, you need to finish so-and-so. But it also comes down to next week.”
Sergio Garcia – 64 (-8)
“It was nice. Conditions were quite good, not much wind, a little bit of a drizzle but other than that it was good. The course is nice. I drove the ball very well and that gave me a lot of opportunities to hit some good iron shots. So, it was a nice round.
“I got off to a nice start and I had three birdies in the first four on my front nine and then another three on the first four on the back nine. It’s the kind of round that you are looking for.
“I’m feeling a bit more comfortable, a bit better. I had a couple of rounds last week where I felt like I played better than I did in Malaysia. Hopefully I keep improving as the week goes on, and we'll be out there on Sunday having a chance.”
Victor Dubuisson – 65 (-7)
“It's been a long time I shot a low score to start a tournament. Usually I play so-so the first two rounds and I do well on the weekend where I make some good results. But to start with seven under, it feels great for confidence for the rest of the tournament.
“It’s carrying on what I did in Turkey. I feel so good on the greens. When I read the line well, I feel like the putt can only go in the hole, and you don’t have this feeling much time during the year. So yeah, it feels great.”
Byeong Hun An – 65 (-7)
“The round was just really good. I think I hit 17 or 18 greens today, so I’m quite happy with that.
I would say at least 12 or 13 holes, they were all in birdie range of say 20 feet, and I hit it really well today. I’ve been playing well the last two weeks.”
Ross Fisher – 66 (-6)
“It felt very similar to Sunday at the WGC-HSBC Champions on the greens. I just felt like I saw the lines and I had the speed dialled in. I had a few putts that slipped by, but to finish by birdieing on eight where I hit a good four iron in, and then nine, to birdie that was a bonus. So, 66 is going to make lunch taste pretty sweet.”
Justin Rose – 67 (-5)
“Last year, I started on the back nine and I was four over through four I think. From that point onwards, I made a bunch of birdies and put myself in contention to win the tournament. I had a little bit more of a smooth start today: one under through the first four. So we celebrated that.
“I played okay today. I was only one under through 11, and I could see a lot of the other guys were going low today and tried to urge myself to sort of get it to three or four under, and I actually beat my own expectations and finished five under for the round. I’m very happy with how I played the last seven or eight holes, and it was a good day’s work in the end.”
Completed first round scores (par 72)
64 S Garcia (Esp),
65 B An (Kor), V Dubuisson (Fra),
66 L Bjerregaard (Den), R Fisher (Eng),
67 J Rose (Eng), P Casey (Eng), T Jaidee (Tha),
68 J Van Zyl (RSA), F Molinari (Ita), R Ramsay (Sco), E Pepperell (Eng), I Poulter (Eng), H Stenson (Swe), M Fitzpatrick (Eng), Z Xinjun (Chn), D Zecheng (Chn), 69 G Stal (Fra), D Howell (Eng), M Kaymer (Ger), K Broberg (Swe), S Hend (Aus), B Hebert (Fra),
70 F Zanotti (Par), D Lee (Nzl), L Oosthuizen (RSA), J Luiten (Ned), A Noren (Swe), J Morrison (Eng), L Wenchong (Chn), C Wood (Eng), R Karlberg (Swe), J Quesne (Fra), D Horsey (Eng), G Bourdy (Fra), M Fraser (Aus), S Lowry (Irl),
71 E Grillo (Arg), P Uihlein (USA), P McGinley (Irl), T Fisher Jnr (RSA), Z Hui-Lin (Chn), B Wiesberger (Aut), T Pieters (Bel), B Grace (RSA), P Reed (USA), L Haotong (Chn),
72 C Zi-Hao (Chn), D Willett (Eng), G Storm (Eng), K Aphibarnrat (Tha), S Kjeldsen (Den), J Daly (USA), M Kieffer (Ger), S Gallacher (Sco), K Moon (Kor), M Warren (Sco), L Slattery (Eng), M Siem (Ger), R Cabrera-Bello (Esp), T Fleetwood (Eng),
73 C Yi (Chn), A Levy (Fra), A Cañizares (Esp), A Wall (Eng),
74 H Ze-Yu (Chn), P Larrazábal (Esp), T Hatton (Eng), A Sullivan (Eng), W Ashun (Chn),
75 T Olesen (Den),
76 J Donaldson (Wal),
77 H Mu (Chn), O Zheng (Chn),
78 M Jiménez (Esp), R Jacquelin (Fra), Z Xiongyi (Chn),
80 Y Zhou Huan (Chn)